Should a master-planned housing development be exempted from growth controls passed while the development is in progress?
That's one of the issues involved in a dispute between the biggest home builder in Moorpark and the 4 1/2-year-old Ventura County city--a dispute that could have major implications for Southland developers who are operating in an increasingly slow-growth environment.
Lawsuits filed against the City of Moorpark by the developer of the Mountain Meadows planned community came after the city denied a request made last April to exempt the developer from slow-growth restrictions for the 850-acre, 2,500-home planned community, according to Thomas A. Zanic of Urban West Communities. About 1,500 homes are completed or in construction.
The two suits filed Jan. 28 in Ventura Superior Court by Urban West Communities, Santa Monica, seek an exemption from a 1986 Moorpark growth-control ordinance that limits building permits to 250 a year, or--failing that--ask for $17 million to compensate Urban West for the fees and public improvements required for approval of the development.
According to Zanic, an Urban West vice president, the $17 million represents part of $28 million in public improvements required by the city for approval of the development and paid by Urban West, including the donation of land for parks, schools and streets.
"It makes no sense to stop the project in midstream and make it stand in line with all new projects," said attorney Michael M. Berger of the law firm of Fadem, Berger & Norton, representing Urban West.
Moorpark Mayor John Galloway said the 1986 growth-control measure could delay, but doesn't prevent completion of Mountain Meadows.
"Urban West never had a guaranteed time frame to complete Mountain Meadows," he said.
Zanic insisted that the original specific plan for Mountain Meadows spelled out the number of houses at 2,500 and the completion date as 1992.
"Specific plans are just that: They give the exact number of houses allowed in a development," he said.
Moorpark City Manager Steve Kueny said Mountain Meadows is not a specific plan, but rather a "planned community zone," adopted originally by Ventura County before the incorporation of Moorpark.
"Under this agreement, there is no commitment by the city for a specific number of houses in Mountain Meadows, as I see it," Kueny said. "There is a 'concept' of 2,500 houses, but the agreement doesn't spell out the exact number or the completion date."
The company is willing to drop both lawsuits if the city agrees to grant Urban West 1,000 building permits by 1991, Zanic said. It's ironic--but not particularly surprising to Philip E. Yasskin--that some of the people who bought houses in his firm's Mountain Meadows development are among the most enthusiastic proponents of slow growth.
"People who can afford houses ranging in price from $195,500 to $355,000--our current price range--are among the first to call for a slowdown in growth--after they've moved in, of course," he said.
Yasskin is vice president and director of marketing for Urban West Communities, which began planning Mountain Meadows in 1977, and started selling the first houses there in 1983.
The first houses in Mountain Meadows went on sale in September, 1983, priced from $126,950 to $148,950 for two-story houses with 1,861-2,047 square feet. When Moorpark incorporated in July, 1983, its population was about 11,000; it's now about 22,400, according to Kueny.
Growth was a major topic in the new city, culminating in an initiative, Measure F, adopted 2,267 to 1,896 on Nov. 4, 1986.
Measure F limited building permits to 250 a year through 1995; another initiative, Measure G, that would have limited Moorpark's population to 33,878 by the year 2000, for an average of 411 building permits a year, was defeated.
3 Neighborhoods Opened
Zanic listed the special design features of Mountain Meadows: Its system of feeder streets that have houses facing quiet streets rather than busy arteries; the new Moorpark High school, under construction; an elementary school that opened last September; a 69-acre community park, along with three eight-acre local parks; a 7.5-acre retail shopping area, and a county fire station site.
Last June, Mountain Meadows opened three neighborhoods with a total of 719 houses: Buttercreek Estates, Countryside and QuailRidge. The three comprise the second increment of the development; the initial stage involved a total of 746 houses, all sold.